DALLAS — More than 2.5 million people came to the State Fair of Texas this month, and all were greeted with signs around Fair Park urging approval of Prop A. But buried on the ballot, it’s a topic many aren’t familiar with.
In short, the measure would fund a new convention center in downtown Dallas and renovations to Fair Park.
“It is my solemn promise to the residents of Dallas that we are going to get this right,” Mayor Eric Johnson said.
City council voted 14-1 in February to move forward with the plan for a new convention center. The funding would come from bonds that are paid off using an increase in the Hotel Occupancy Tax or HOT, a way to target tourist dollars instead of increasing taxes on residents.
Johnson and other city leaders note that the convention center has lost out on 948 events due to structural issues in the last 15 years and say Fair Park is falling apart as well.
“The reality is we don’t win every convention we go after. They come, they look at what we have to offer and sometimes we win, but sometimes we don’t,” he said. “Just a structure that’s literally not performing at the basic level of keeping water off of people’s heads and things like that, so it needs to actually be improved from that standpoint.”
The tax increase from 13% to 15% would raise $1.5 to $2 billion for the project, but critics note that there’s still no final price tag on just how much the convention center or improvements to Fair Park could cost.
“The next step after we pass this would be to plan to make sure that we don’t turn dirt on a project that doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said.
There’s also still a need for TXDOT approval to build the convention center over the top of I-30 and interest rates for bonds have jumped, making borrowing and the project more expensive. Convention business is still down 25% compared to 2019 according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
“What we’re really wanting to do is make sure that we develop the area around the convention center,” Johnson said. “Hopefully the 30 acres of land that are freed up by the reorientation of the entrance will allow us to actually develop this part of our city.”
There’s no major opposition to the project but there are still several unanswered questions, including when construction may start.
"The tragedy would be if we look back on this 25 years from now and said 'well, why didn’t they do this there?'” Johnson said.